by Gary A. Braunbeck
I see Catholicism more as an ideology than as a faith. That is, a doctrine embraced by those for whom belief in a Holy Triumvirate (Father, Son, Holy Spirit/Holy Ghost) offers a spiritual anchor, a sense of their being part of a greater, infinite Whole -- a sense that they are truly children of God.
I no longer embrace the Catholic religion. However, I use the term 'recovering Catholic' to describe myself because, like alcoholism, Catholicism is something that's always part of you even after you separate yourself from it.
I spent over a decade in the Catholic school system and it taught me only three things: shame, fear, and guilt. Not the best commodities to base individual spirituality on.
I also came to distrust the Bible, for many reasons, not the least of which is that the Bible, as we know it today, has been edited and revised several times in order to more accurately 'reflect' (read: adhere to) the Catholic Church's moral codes.
I've been told by more than a few people that the Catholic Church is much more enlightened today than it was when I was knee-deep in a parochial school system whose teaching and discipline tactics rivaled those of the Gestapo. Groovy, I say. You can still have it. There remain for me far too many contradictions in its philosophy and too many nebulous stances in its theological evolution.
To me, unquestioning belief in a God Who watches over all things, Who knows all thoughts, Who created all and judges all, Who gave us Elvis and UFOs and cheeseburgers and Rwanda and Kool-Aid and Susan Smith and dew glistening on leaves on autumn mornings, Who is majestic and wise ... to believe in such a Being without question is to bleat like a sheep and march like a lemming to the cliffs.
That little rant out of the way, I will tell you that I believed in (for lack of a better term or name) God long before I ever attended Catholic school or set foot inside a church.
I still believe in such a power, and I worship in my own way -- through what I create. I have days, weeks, months, when I doubt that humankind is even on God's radar anymore, but I have long since stopped taking the easy way out and blaming God for every little ill or horror that befalls us. I believe in evil, and I believe in compassion, and I believe that all our acts should spring from the well of unselfish love, whether there be continuation after death or not.
On my really bad days, I always resort to quoting a line from The Boys in the Band: "I believe in God, and when I die, if it turns out there isn't one, that's fine; but if it turns out there is one ... I'm covered."
Catholicism has given me more than enough knowledge about shame, fear, and guilt. I learned deep anger at an early age because of it. I learned self-loathing and hopelessness. I discovered my interior world because the Catholic Church made me feel there was nowhere else I belonged or was wanted. I learned to recognize suffering in others. I also got some nice scars on my knuckles from where any in a line of Nunzillas used to whack me with metal rulers.
However, I also was privileged to meet a handful of genuinely selfless priests and nuns who always managed to show me that true compassion -- given freely, without judgment or expectation of reciprocation.
That had almost nothing to do with Catholicism itself, but instead came from the core of the individual's conscience, where dignity, empathy, and integrity were the Holy Triumvirate that make up the human spirit.